Meeting on November 5, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council discussed the addition of a SSMU executive position and the affiliation to a provincial student federation. Council also passed a motion in support of the creation of a fall reading break, approved a set of clarified internal regulations for the Finance and Operations portfolio, and heard from Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens on mental health initiatives.
Council spent over an hour discussing two provisional proposals from the executive committee to add an executive position to SSMU. Both proposals would involve the separation of the VP Finance and Operations position into two positions – one for each portion of the current portfolio – as well as the elimination of the VP Clubs & Services position and the redistribution of duties among the remaining positions. The first proposal would also create a VP Student Life position, while the second would split the VP University Affairs position into a VP University Relations and a VP Student Affairs.
Executives noted that SSMU has seen significant growth in the executive portfolios since the structure of the executive committee was last modified in 1988. President Kareem Ibrahim argued that most executives are unable to fulfill the entirety of their mandates, despite working between 70 and 85 hours per week.
“Executive burnout is not unique to this year,” Ibrahim said. “There is genuinely not enough time in the work day […] to accomplish all these tasks.”
“If students really want a student association that’s able to do more and really expand its scope, we need more money and resources to back it up.”
VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke noted that most of the portfolio items added in the last ten years went to her portfolio, including the recent addition of mental health. Speaking in favour of the second proposal, she insisted that equity and mental health should stay with the VP or VPs who work most closely with the representation of student interests to the University.
VP Clubs & Services Kimber Bialik spoke against the second proposal, arguing that it was “setting up the VP Internal to fail” by making them responsible for events as well as clubs and services, which have multiplied “exponentially” over the past 15 years. She noted that the two positions’ responsibilities have similar timelines, and their combination would create an unbearable amount of work in the summer and the fall.
Several councillors raised the possibility of creating new administrative positions or “associate VPs” to help the executives instead of creating a new position. Rourke noted that this would impose training costs and lead to increased bureaucratization.
“You get the most work for your money with executives,” said Rourke, noting however that “if students really want a student association that’s able to do more and really expand its scope, we need more money and resources to back it up.”
In a straw poll taken at the end of the discussion, a plurality of councillors expressed their dissatisfaction with both proposals, though more were in favour of the first than the second. According to Ibrahim, the topic will be discussed again at the General Assembly (GA) today, and any change to the executive structure would eventually go to referendum.
VP External Emily Boytinck updated Council on her involvement in the two burgeoning Quebec student federations, the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) and the Union étudiante du Québec (UEQ).
Boytinck explained that AVEQ is distinguished from UEQ by its lower proposed fee levy of $3.50 rather than $4.50, an equal vote for all member associations independent of the number of students they represent, and the presence of other anglophone associations as likely members.
“That’s a lot of money we’re giving, but our share of the vote is actually very little.”
Medicine Representative Joshua Chin expressed concern that, due to its large membership, SSMU would be paying more money to AVEQ than other member associations.
“That’s a lot of money we’re giving, but our share of the vote is actually very little,” said Chin.
Boytinck responded that each student should make an equal contribution as a matter of solidarity, since they share in the collective benefit of provincial representation.
“Our students should be paying the same amount as every student across Quebec pays for the exact same service,” said Boytinck, noting that the alternative option of joining UEQ would likely lead to “backroom politics” among the student associations with a greater vote share.
Several councillors spoke to the importance of representing the interests of international students at the provincial level. “While we can lobby McGill about [international tuition deregulation], it’s very much about government regulation,” said Arts Senator Erin Sobat.
Council expressed interest in hearing from representatives from both AVEQ and UEQ before putting a potential affiliation to referendum.
Dyens on student well-being
Addressing Council, Dyens detailed several areas for improvement in services to students. On mental health, Dyens suggested doing “more prevention,” merging McGill Mental Health Service and McGill Counselling Service in order to work in a “more holistic way,” assessing students in less stressful ways, and embedding counsellors in faculties. On accessibility, he noted that the Office for Students with Disabilities continues to struggle with budget cuts, and that “physical accessibility at McGill […] sucks, essentially.”
“Physical accessibility at McGill […] sucks, essentially.”
Dyens further noted that “the legalistic culture we have” is not “conducive to good relationships” with student associations, and that students do not feel like they are treated as individuals at McGill. Responding to a question, he added that “there are a lot of places where we could provide lower costs,” such as food and housing, but that this was currently impossible due to budgetary constraints.